There was a time when hockey, to me, was getting to watch this guy. It means so much more now.

Do you suppose Gary Bettman watches other sports?

I’m just sort of curious, because he might be able to recognize that his sport is being completely out-classed when it comes to post-season play. Even if the NHL was on TV last night, would it have changed our viewing habits?

People in my Twitter timeline who never tweet about baseball were all over the Baltimore Orioles last night. Afterwards, they were with the Oakland A’s, making the same desperate Moneyball jokes I was. The night was sort of anti-climactic, but that’s only because the MLB postseason so far, well, has been absolutely crazy.

If there’s a worldwide bacon shortage, there’s a worldwide HAM surplus, and the baseball players are the beneficiaries of that. The Tigers’ 6-0 win over the Athletics last night was the first game that seemed over before the final pitch in a couple of days worth of games. They’ve been crazy and oddly enough, two consecutive days of 12 hours of baseball wasn’t enough.

Do you suppose Gary Bettman watched all of them?

I’m wondering what this does for our viewer habits. The three sports bars I pass on my walk home from my rec soccer game we’re a little more full than I’ve seen them before, as fans watched both baseball and the Thursday Night Football game.

The best post written about the apathy of the fans so far was over at Pension Plan Puppets. mf37 wrote an excellent line that has stuck with me over the last few days, suggesting that “the game of hockey has no advocate at the bargaining table.”

As a result, these negotiations are entirely about how to split over $3 billion in revenues between 30 teams and 700 players. They are not about addressing systemic issues or finding solutions to the challenges that have plagued the league for decades. There is little doubt that these systemic issues and the labour stoppage are inextricably linked, yet neither side appears willing or able to address them.

I’ve described it as a “billion-dollar game of chicken” in the past, while Nick Cotsonika had a more apt metaphor, about the sides fighting over a melting popsicle. But they’re fighting over money, not the direction of the game, and that stinks.

Hockey will always be a special game. The purist in me decries that the NHL grew out of a sport and tried to develop into an industry sometime over the course of my lifetime. I always liked it as a niche sport, something we had that only a few countries were really good at. It’s dependent on geography more than anything—there’s a thrill associated with playing the game outside that you can’t get if you play baseball or football or basketball or soccer in a community park.

And the game is in trouble. Not the NHL, but the sport itself, particularly in Canada. The amount of hockey registrations in Canada flat-lined for several years and have begun to dip. Chris Lund argued it has to do with money. I’ll submit that you can’t blame immigrants for not wanting to sign up, since Hockey Canada’s executives are a bunch of white guys in suits. The sport is poorly marketed outside of the traditional Canadian nuclear family.

In fact, a full season lockout may benefit the game in some respect. It works as a legislative opportunity for the Canadian government to study hockey and the challenges it faces. It costs too much to play, it’s too dangerous to play, and nobody really wants to play it anymore. Remember just seven years ago, the major problem was that “it was boring”. The new NHL, whatever comes out of this, will not address any of the systematic issues with hockey we face in this country. The longer this lockout goes on, however, I think more people will begin to notice the serious flaws with the game.

Our viewership and entertainment habits will change over the course of this lockout. I wonder if Gary Bettman is watching these sports. He’s not a hockey fan, but that’s not his job. The fact that the NHL could grow into a large-enough entity where the most powerful person in the sport doesn’t have to be a fan to be good at his job makes me wonder just where we went wrong with this whole thing.

I’m still pretty apathetic about losing the season opener—it didn’t interfere with my night, I had a lot of other things to do. I signed up for a Thursday night soccer league back in the summer knowing I’d be completely free on Thursdays since those days are usually reserved on my calendar as the prime NHL viewing night. I think I, and a lot of others, are used to this by now. Part of the reason is that the agreement the sides come to won’t guarantee that this doesn’t happen in seven or eight years and won’t fix the systematic issues with the sport and the league that have priced out, and excluded, a lot of new fans.

Go Orioles.

Comments (3)

  1. I actually did watch Pavel Bure last night on NHL Network. It was a game from before the lockout – before the FIRST lockout, in 1994, when Wayne Gretzky scored his 802nd NHL regular-season goal, and the Canucks doubled up the Kings 6-3. Bure scored his 50th goal into an empty net, having been repeatedly stoned by Kelly Hrudey.

    It was so long ago, the crowd didn’t boo mercilessly when Gary Bettman was introduced and said a few words at the mid-game ceremony for Gretzky.

  2. Though I am loathe to post a link to another blog, the NY Times, which got rid of it’s full-time hockey desk and relegated the sport to mostly blogs during the season (as opposed to college football and college basketball), but otherwise, their SlapShot blog included a very tasty selection of other hockey action going on instead of the NHL games

    Definitely worth checking out:

    http://slapshot.blogs.nytimes.com/

  3. The custodians of the Stanley Cup should take it away from the NHL and set up a series of challenge cup tournaments in each top flight hockey country outside of North America

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